Retail reigns DeloitteThe health care industry is undergoing a retail transformation, according to Retail Reigns in Health Care: The rise of consumer power and its organization & workforce implications from Deloitte.

Deloitte’s report published in October 2014 focuses on the health insurance business, which is newly-dealing with uninsured people largely unfamiliar with how to evaluate health plan options. This by any definition requires new muscles for both buyers and sellers on a health insurance exchange: new product access + uninformed consumer = retail challenge.

Deloitte notes another supply and demand challenge, and that’s with the health insurance company workforce: while 93% of health plans want to use “systematic touchpoints to reinforce the customer experience” in the next 3 years, less than one-third of companies say they have the workforce and systems to accomplish this.

Some best practices the report mentions are Cigna’s hiring of a Chief Customer Office with consumer goods experience; Aetna’s Medicare Mobile Field Enrollment tool allowing health insurance brokers to access a portal to efficiently enroll subscribers into health plans; Walgreens field support for managers to improve consumer engagement; and, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s dedicated consumer experience team that developed an interactive program to give employees tools to use to enhance interactions with consumers.

The bottom line, Deloitte concludes, is the importance of partnering throughout the health care ecosystem with providers and pharmacists, as well as providing technologies and tools that help members of health plans make good decisions.

CVS_ACA_survey_July_2013Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Retail means connecting with people where they live, work, play, learn, and shop…so CVS Health is a good example of a company connecting via many channels (omnichannel in ad-world lingo), as the company did in this campaign for ExtraCare using the personalities Joan Rivers, Nick Cannon and George Hamilton in the fall of 2013.

The retailization of health care is technologically enabled through digital / mobile platforms, which facilitate key factors that can lessen friction in blocked-markets. For example, among many scenarios, the online milieu can allow patients to shop around for health care prices and even participate in auction-like price-matching with health care providers in local markets; efficiently remind people to make medical appointments and take medicines; and, provide a channel for virtual housecalls via webcams, as discussed in this Advertising Age article. This article should be noted not just for providing this content, but for who published it: Advertising Age, the bible for Mad Men.

There are many signposts in the current marketplace illustrating the emergence of retail in U.S. health care. Note CVS’s infographic’s last point: that two-thirds of U.S. adults expect retail pharmacies to offer health insurance information, both in “bricks” formats in stores, and online. Pharmacies are the new healthcare delivery channel, both for services (like immunizations, beyond pills) and for information.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article relevant to health-at-retail in Health Matters, Before You Go Under That Knife, talking about new programs that educate patients about the benefits and risks of surgery. Education is a pre-cursor for being an informed consumer, and in health care, that’s key. This calls for transparency and engagement that underpin shared decision-making – a recipe for helping people become “blockbusters” in their own health care to drive outcomes and, potentially, save money at the same time. And today’s WSJ features an In the Lab piece, Genetic Tests for People Who’d Rather Not Know,

Another feature of retail is consumers’ ability and wish to rate products and services. Health care is not immune to this tendency, for people to rate waiting times in doctors’ offices, bedside manner, and health care pricing — even when their physicians have very little to do with that back-room negotiations between health insurers and plan sponsors (namely, employers and government).

The Economist magazine covered this growing reality in the July 26, 2014 issue in a story titled DocAdvisor (a la “TripAdvisor”). The piece talks about doctors filing lawsuits against patients who leave negative feedback, Yelp-style, online. But increasingly, the article argues, “doctors cannot afford to ignore them,” that is, patients who are acting as health consumers. The author counts at least 60 online review websites covering U.S. health care providers…and the phenomenon will grow.

And doctors will respond: not through lawsuits, but by actually following comments. ZocDoc’s survey learned that 85% of its doctor members looked at their ratings in 2013.

In the growing value-based payment environment, health providers have begun to receive bonuses for pleasing patients: Medicare HCAHPS scores, The Cleveland Clinic, and the UK’s National Health Service are all surveying provider performance. As The Economist (a market-loving publication) sees it, “Patients who hold their doctors accountable make them better and more efficient.”

Deloitte’s retail consultancy previously published a report subtitled “Price wins customers. The consumer experience keeps them.” As health care morphs to a retail business model, with patients having more skin in the game, it’s the experience that will count after the sticker shock fades.